Situation: A company currently has inside and outside sales teams, and coordinates efforts with SalesForce.com software. Their strategic initiatives are to double inbound leads, create a triage approach to new leads and to lower the cost of sales. How do you optimize your sales organization?
Advice from the CEOs:
When outside sales claims that they have limited band width, it is necessary to find how they are spending their time.
If they are not spending most of their time developing and closing sales, adjust the system so that they are concentrating their efforts in these two areas.
Decide what the sales teams are selling – set up the organization so that it complements the sales goals and objectives. Below are alternatives used by others.
One company has evolved “product managers” who are like sales engineers but more experienced. They are highly paid and highly skilled. They are business oriented, with good communication skills, well rounded, and have successfully closed sales.
In contrast, the role of this company’s “salespeople” is to follow up. Lower level salespeople are tasked with generating leads for the product managers
Another CEO observed that what the company has done up until now all has worked well. The question now is how to mature their system?
This company’s solution has been to use outsourced Inside Sales Support (ISS) based abroad to find prospects.
ISS personnel are teamed with and managed by the company’s salespeople. Salespeople develop their own system. The ratio is 1/1, but outside personnel are ½ time for each salesperson.
This allows the company to reduce services quickly if they become overwhelmed.
A third company uses a 3-tier system:
Inside sales for lead evaluation.
Outside sales – get hot leads from inside sales, develop, close.
Consider this alternative: instead of a shotgun approach, target three accounts – Elephants. One company did this with an intense 6-month focus. The President and CEO drive these sales. The result: they have closed one, one is pending, and a third is likely to close.
Another CEO observed that the essential issue appears to be an efficiency problem.
Too much of the outside sales time adds limited value to marketing or the company.
Redirect their efforts to hunting.
Once an account is closed, sales is out of the picture. The customer transitions to the customer service organization for additional sales and service.
Situation: A CEO has an option to purchase another company with whom they have a long and good relationship. A smooth transition will be important. The owner’s relationship with their customers is central to their success, as is his employees’ knowledge of their key accounts. How does the CEO assure that these relationships are retained? How do you construct a business acquisition?
Advice from the CEOs:
Based on the CEO’s responses to the Forum’s questions, the owner of the other company needs this deal more than the acquiring company needs him. This creates a strong bargaining position.
The owner of the business is the business and the key to a smooth transition post acquisition. Retaining his ongoing involvement – at least for a reasonable period – is essential to gaining maximum value from this acquisition.
The value of this business is its people: the owner’s relationships, and both the owner’s and his employees’ knowledge of their key accounts. His employees know the inner workings of their customers’ businesses. These are the relationships and the knowledge needed to assure that the acquisition is profitable post-close. Retention clauses and penalties must be part of the agreement.
If the owner wants 50% of the net income generated from his piece of the surviving company during a transition period, this is fair. However, the financial and operational details of the transition and his share of the income must be spelled out in the agreement and the agreement must assure that there is proper follow-through to qualify for the payments.
The income from the owner’s accounts must support his salary. However, even with this the owner will still cost the acquirer time and energy. Plan for this and budget for it in the agreement.
Situation: A CEO’s company is short of cash to make a scheduled payment against a line of credit. They have been notified that if the payment isn’t made, the bank will transfer cash from the company’s checking account to satisfy the payment. This would compromise their ability to meet payroll and pay vendors. How are your relations with your bank?
Advice from the CEOs:
What the company needs is time, so that they can pay down the line of credit from cash flow. It is best to compartmentalize any discomfort with this situation. Remember that any bank action generally takes time.
Advice from the company’s lawyer is that if they stop making deposits, the bank will notice and react negatively. Given that the current interest rate on the line is low, a negative reaction from the bank could lead to an increase in the rate.
The company has a bargaining chip. The bank does not want to show the company’s line as delinquent. If they admit that a delinquency exists, it puts them in a bad place.
Develop a contingency plan to guard against the company’s biggest risk – inability to make payroll. Assure that this can be covered.
Use checks paid by customers to move a portion of company assets to another bank.
Secure a new line of credit with another bank to cover credit needs, including salary coverage if the current bank acts adversely.
Assure that any conversations with the bank are documented in letters to the company’s contact at the bank.
Situation: A CEO senses that employees don’t have his sense of urgency regarding the business. A case in point is responding quickly to new customer inquiries in a competitive market. Too often, he takes over to assure that bids are submitted quickly. How do you get comfortable delegating to staff?
Advice from the CEOs:
Prepare for a meeting with staff by defining the key desired standards in advance.
Initiate the meeting with this message: “We have a company image. This is how we define it.” Work with staff to create standards that define this image.
Agree on standards with the team.
Discuss standards with the team but have them make the decision. Guide the conversation – through questions – to focus on the desired standards. Be open to using the language developed by staff to enhance ownership.
Examples of standards that may apply:
Response time to incoming calls, maximum number of rings before response.
Time to return telephone messages.
Time to return emails.
Invoices completed the day or the order, or whatever is appropriate.
Establish a response regimen – assure that response is professional.
Train all people who pick up the phone.
Assign rotating office days for salespeople with responsibility to answer the phones.
Emphasize the importance of speedy response with an explanation that everyone will understand.
When a customer calls, assume that they are also calling 2-3 other suppliers. The first responder can shape the conversation in favor of their company and offering – for example the company can offer both a solution plus design and logistics assistance.
As first responded, assure that the focus is on the company’s strengths – this puts the competition at an immediate disadvantage.
Enforce and maintain the standards
Once standards are set, make review and updates of performance against standards part of weekly sales meetings. Use large charts to track this.
Create friendly internal competition. Who got the most business last week? Who did the best with incoming calls? Have the team develop competitive goals.
Recognize top performers with $50 – $100 cash award, restaurant certificate, etc. Make it fun!
If “everyone” is supposed to pick up the phone this becomes “nobody” because nobody is responsible for picking up the phone!
Situation: The CEO of a small but profitable company has a promising employee who she wants to promote to a supervisor role. The challenge is that this employee has limited English. Promoting this individual may upset the current supervisor. Do you promote an employee with limited English?
Advice from the CEOs:
Before making any decisions consider taking the “lead” position in manufacturing short-term instead of promoting or hiring a supervisor.
This will allow you to fully understand the manufacturing operations, as well as any points of art in the operation that can serve as the company’s foundation IP.
To think about the role of supervisor or Plant Manager, visit a Starbuck’s for an hour and watch the Starbucks Manager. This individual will, over the course of the hour, perform all functions within the establishment. This is a good model for a hands-on supervisor for a small operation.
Given the small size of the current operation, look for a more modest role for the position. Instead of Operations Manager perhaps Plant Manager. This will allow the individual time to grow into a larger role as the company grows.
How should the message be delivered to the promising employee with limited English as well as to the current supervisor?
Tell the employee “We like you and think that you have real potential. Would you be interested in an English as a second language course to build your English skills? We’ll pay for the course.” It is important to be enthusiastic and positive with the individual as you have this conversation.
A supplemental alternative is to reimburse the individual’s use of one of the online programs like Babbel or Duolingo that enables learning or improvement of language skills using a mobile phone. These programs are inexpensive and highly effective with diligent practice.
Promoting this individual above the current supervisor may generate a problem. This doesn’t prevent the promotion. Just assure that it is done carefully and be prepared for the current supervisor’s reaction.
When it is timely, instead of promoting this individual immediately, consider offering a temporary lead role for key tasks of increasing levels of responsibility. This will allow time for the individual to prove their merit and capabilities to others over 2-3 months.
Situation: A company uses outsourced manufacturing but is concerned about inventory damage by the manufacturer. Tests have been established to assure both visual compliance and functional performance, overseen by a company employee. Still the company is receiving too many unacceptable parts. How do you minimize inventory damage by an outsourced manufacturer?
Advice from the CEOs:
It is perfectly acceptable for a vendor of consigned materials to bear the risk of product that is not to specification.
In any contract for manufacturing, require that the vendor carry insurance to cover the full cost of materials and processing in case of damage either during manufacturing or shipping.
It sounds like this is a new opportunity and situation for the company. In the process they have not guaranteed that both cost and risk are covered.
There is no point in assuming all this risk.
For future opportunities like this, take on the work as a time and materials project at an appropriate hourly rate for the market, and with a significant mark-up to cover risk as the project is transferred to a contract manufacturer.
Another option is to take on the project under a project management contract, and to bill engineering separately.
This situation sounds familiar for an evolving project. In the future try to unhitch the manufacturing piece from the engineering. Engineering should be more profitable, which will allow the company to more successfully manage the project into early manufacturing.
Strategically, this could be a good move for the company provided they partner with a reliable vendor to facilitate early stage manufacturing. One option for paying sub-vendors is to pay for yield – particularly if early stage work has a high failure rate.
If the market opportunity is there do two things:
Set up an organization with professionals who know early stage manufacturing.
Be aware this group will have a different culture and approach compared to design engineers.
Situation: A CEO is evaluating an acquisition which could significantly contribute to his company’s financial position. Patented technology may add value to the deal. The founders of the acquisition target are willing to work part-time to facilitate the transition of their technology to the acquirer. How do you evaluate an acquisition?
Advice from the CEOs:
Set a timetable to close the deal or walk.
Two key factors in the due diligence process will be strength of the intellectual property and cost of the acquisition long term.
Another key factor to evaluation will be how this opportunity fits into the company’s larger financing plan. Currently the company is undertaking a financing round. How much will this acquisition contribute to or distract from the financing round?
If this is a primarily a value-add opportunity, will it add to the larger financing round?
Can the larger financing round be completed on time while pursuing this opportunity?
An option is to negotiate a white label agreement – an agreement that will keep the company in the game while completing the larger round.
If the founders are not amenable to a delay, what is the cost in terms of funds and effort versus the larger round.
The technology appears interesting, but the timing is bad given your need for the larger financing round. Here’s an option.
Go to the founders and start the discussion. Secure a license or hire their programmer. Let the technology go dark until the financing round is completed.
There is value here – but do this as a side focus if it’s not too expensive. Assure that the deal includes both rights and the underlying algorithms.
Delegate this to someone else in the organization. The CEO’s focus is the larger financing round.
Situation: A CEO has been the principal source of financing for her company. She is looking for Round #1 financing of $800K to $1 million to take the company through the next two years, followed by an additional two rounds of financing to take the company to profitability. What are the best options to obtain financing?
Advice from the CEOs:
Given the company’s size, it’s too risky to put all eggs in one basket. Also, it is difficult to simultaneously pursue all options. List and rank all financing options, and limit efforts to the top 3-5 options, forgetting the rest for now. The company is more likely to be successful with a limited number of targets.
The big question is which avenues to pursue? Current preferences are:
Sell what the company can sell now – focus on collaborators and bootstrap the company as much as possible.
Angel funding, if the company can find the right angel.
Avoid venture capital unless there are no other options.
Given these, where does the company have live contacts? What conversations can be pursued to a successful conclusion in the next 1-2 months?
For the Angel option, the company’s model is easy to explain and has appeal. Which potential Angels could be approached in the next 1-2 months?
An option is to bring an Angel in slowly – creative input, perhaps a Board seat.
Once the Angel is on-board, put together a list of your funding priorities and a list of 4-5 top prospects in a Board discussion. Ask this individual’s advice and assistance contacting some of the prospects. He may ask at that meeting or later why he hasn’t been asked.
For the first $1million – consider an SBA loan.
Under new guidelines, the application fee has been reduced.
Approval cycle – 30 days or less.
The trade-off between bootstrap and Angel funding and SBA is personal risk. Look at this as a fallback option.
VC funding is very time consuming. Also, VCs prefer that their clients are somewhat desperate, so that they will receive a larger piece of the company for their money.
Situation: The CEO of a successful company is considering two options: sell the company or grow to the next level. She believes that the company could be sold for an amount that would satisfy her financial needs. Also, the prospect of a long vacation and more time for family is appealing. Do you sell the company or grow bigger?
Advice from the CEOs:
First Option: Pursue funding to take the company to the next level – through either private equity or venture capital. Present an optimistic, but credible, upside return for the investment; back this up with a realistic lower estimate to cover exposure.
Both funding sources only buy the home-run model. Two reasons:
They need potential and credible home runs to sell to their investors; nobody invests in solid base hits because the return is insufficient for the risk.
They assume that the funds recipient is overestimating what they can do.
Given the existence of new technology to expand the company’s presence, it has a legitimate home-run model.
Hire a pro to help obtain funding.
Second Option: Take a shot at buying the company’s principal competitor – this provides the opportunity for rapid growth at low risk in the existing market and will make the company more appealing at a higher price.
Third Option: Based on personal goals, if the company can be sold now at a good price – do it. This will enable you to fulfill your life goals.
Give the first two options 12 months. If there is no or limited progress in 12 months start taking two successive months off on vacation – allowing minimal time to monitor the company. If vacations are satisfying, sell the company.
Ask yourself a serious question – do you really want to be on extended vacation now or is this an objective for 3-5 years out? If the company already has strong momentum, why not see what can be built and then sell. There may be more adventure in this.
Fourth Option: Take some money off the table – enough to build your dream – but continue to own controlling interest in the company. This offers both choices.
Situation: The CEO of a company is finding it increasingly difficult to maintain the passion that she had when the business was young. Day to day work feels like having a monkey on her back with too much time spent on sales and business minutiae. Too little time is spent on strategy and growth. How do you maintain the passion for your business?
Advice from the CEOs:
Look at what you like and don’t like – delegate what you don’t like.
Delegate activities which are inappropriate for a top executive – like answering the telephone when others are present to do this.
Get everybody in the same boat – get them rowing in unison.
Delegate more responsibility – with the understanding that others will make mistakes. When they do, they must understand their responsibility for repairing them.
Prioritize tasks as they are delegated to reduce conflict or confusion.
Strengthen relationships with key suppliers and customers. This is a strategic move to reduce future risk to the company.
How did you get the monkey off your back?
Ask managers and employees for their input – have them develop solutions. If they push back that they don’t know how or don’t have the resources, let them know that their job is to provide solutions, not just to identify problems.
This takes time and patience, but if the CEO is steadfast this can yield results in a surprisingly short period of time.
Reduce time spent on sales. Become the closer – the only person who can do that little something to close a sale.
Have the others do the heavy lifting our qualifying the customer, developing the solution, crafting the proposal and presenting this to the customer. Limit the CEO’s involvement to reviewing the proposal prior to presentation, and to acting as closer ONLY if sales can’t do the job themselves.
Learn to take time off – develop other interests. This is the first step in being able to take longer periods of time off.